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Dangers of Ketamine Addiction: Signs & Treatment

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

February 14, 2024

Table of Contents

Ketamine, initially approved by FDA in 1970, is a dissociative anesthetic used in both human and veterinary medicine. Its applications have expanded over time, now including the treatment of conditions like treatment-resistant depression. Ketamine is also being explored for potential use in the management of chronic pain, bipolar disorder, and anxiety.

 Despite its medical uses, ketamine, a derivative of PCP (phencyclidine), is also known for its recreational use because of its ability to induce euphoric and dissociative states.

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Unlike many substances of abuse, ketamine is not normally associated with physical dependence, but it can lead to a strong psychological dependence. Additionally, abruptly discontinuing the use of ketamine may trigger the presentation of withdrawal symptoms. Professional medical supervision will streamline the withdrawal process. Read on to learn more about ketamine addiction risk and discover how to engage with evidence-based treatment near you.

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Is Ketamine Addictive (Special K)?

Ketamine, like all Schedule III controlled substances, has a relatively low potential for addiction. That said, the risk of developing an addiction to ketamine exists, mainly due to the development of tolerance and physical dependence.

Those who use ketamine may find that tolerance forms and they need larger doses to achieve the same levels of dissociation or euphoria they initially experienced. This need for increasing doses can escalate swiftly as the body adjusts to the drug’s effects, accelerating the development of physical dependence.

Ketamine dependence has both physical and psychological components. Physically, the body adapts to its presence, leading to withdrawal symptoms when the drug is discontinued. Psychologically, some people may experience a compelling urge to continue using ketamine for its effects or to avoid discomfort – this occurs mainly due to the dissociative and escapist experiences that the drug can offer. 

Dependence is not the same as addiction, though. Addiction to ketamine is a chronic condition that’s characterized by compulsive use despite adverse outcomes. Ketamine addiction can profoundly impact daily life, relationships, and responsibilities, often calling for professional treatment and support to tackle both the physical and psychological facets of the addiction.

Is Ketamine an Opioid?

No, ketamine is not an opioid. It is a dissociative anesthetic with painkilling and hallucinogenic properties.


Signs of Ketamine Addiction

Various behavioral and physical signs might indicate problematic patterns of ketamine consumption. These include:

  • Changes in social circles: An individual may start associating with a different group of friends, especially those who use ketamine or encourage its use.
  • Secrecy and deception: There might be a noticeable increase in secretive behaviors, lying, or deceptive actions, often to hide the extent of ketamine use.
  • Tolerance: The person may use more ketamine than at first as tolerance to the drug builds.
  • Neglect of appearance and responsibilities: A decline in personal grooming, hygiene, and a lack of attention to responsibilities and commitments is often indicative of substance abuse.
  • Mood swings and behavioral changes: Sudden and uncharacteristic changes in mood or behavior, including irritability, agitation, or depression, particularly when ketamine is not available.
  • Altered sleep patterns: Experiencing disturbances in normal sleep patterns – insomnia or oversleeping, for instance – can be linked to ketamine use or withdrawal.
  • Physical health decline: Noticeable deterioration in physical health, such as weight loss, dental issues, or skin changes, may be related to ongoing drug use.
  • Cognitive impairments: Difficulties with memory, concentration, and decision-making skills, potentially resulting from prolonged ketamine use.
  • Increased risk-taking behaviors: Engaging in dangerous behaviors like driving under the influence or participating in unsafe activities while using ketamine.
  • Withdrawal from social activities: Withdrawing from family, friends, and social activities to spend more time using ketamine or recovering from its effects.

Recognizing these signs can help in identifying a potential addiction to ketamine and illustrating whether there might be a need for intervention or professional help.


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Dangers of Ketamine Addiction

Ketamine addiction poses significant dangers, impacting both physical health and overall well-being.

  • Urinary tract problems: Ketamine is notorious for causing severe urinary tract issues, including inflammation, pain, and in extreme cases, bladder damage requiring surgical intervention.
  • Cognitive impairment: Prolonged use of ketamine can lead to memory loss, reduced attention span, and impaired learning ability, affecting daily functioning and decision-making.
  • Psychological distress: Chronic use can trigger or exacerbate mental health issues liek depression, anxiety, and in severe cases, induce psychotic episodes.
  • Gastrointestinal distress: Regular use can lead to abdominal pain and other gastrointestinal issues, sometimes referred to as ketamine belly.
  • Physical dependence: Although less common than psychological dependence, physical dependence to ketamine can develop. This is associated with the manifestation of withdrawal symptoms when ketamine use is reduced or stopped.
  • Respiratory issues: High doses of ketamine can lead to respiratory depression, potentially life-threatening in cases of overdose.
  • Increased accident risk: Impaired motor function and disorientation from ketamine use increase the risk of accidents and injuries.
  • Social and relationship problems: Addiction can strain relationships with family, friends, and co-workers, potentially triggering social isolation and personal conflicts.
  • Occupational and academic decline: The effects of ketamine can lead to decreased performance at work or school, possibly resulting in job loss or academic failure.
  • Legal and financial issues: Illicit ketamine use can result in legal problems, including arrest and conviction, as well as financial difficulties due to the cost of obtaining the drug.


Ketamine addiction is a serious concern that requires professional treatment and support to overcome the associated health risks and life disruptions. Read on to learn what’s involved and how you can connect with evidence-based treatment in California.

Can You Overdose on Ketamine?

Yes, it is possible to overdose on ketamine. Ketamine overdose can trigger severe respiratory distress, unconsciousness, and death.

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Treatment for Ketamine Addiction

Engaging with evidence-based ketamine addiction treatment can help people address problematic patterns of special K consumption. Here is what a typical treatment plan looks like.

  • Assessment and evaluation: The most effective special K drug addiction treatment begins with a comprehensive assessment. Medical and mental health professionals will assess the severity of the addiction and look for co-occurring mental health disorders. A personalized treatment plan is created based on this initial evaluation.
  • Outpatient treatment: Most people addicted to ketamine find that outpatient treatment programs offer adequate structure and support. Ketamine does not induce physical dependence and is not associated with severe withdrawal symptoms, meaning that most people can unpack the psychological component of special K addiction through outpatient therapy sessions.
  • Inpatient rehab for co-occurring disorders: Those who have co-occurring mental health disorders or unstable home environments might find that inpatient rehab (residential rehab) offers a more suitable pathway to sustained recovery. This involves remaining at a treatment center for 30 to 90 days or more while engaging with intensive dual diagnosis treatment.
  • Behavioral and motivational therapies: There are no medications with FDA approval for treating addiction to ketamine. This means that behavioral interventions and motivational therapies are the cornerstone of treatment. Engaging with CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) helps people in identifying triggers for addiction and making positive behavioral changes. DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) promotes distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and mindfulness. MI (motivational interviewing) helps people overcome resistance or ambivalence to change.
  • Holistic therapies: Most of the best rehabs supplement evidence-based treatments with holistic therapies like meditation, yoga, mindfulness, and art therapy. This helps promote a rounded and whole-body approach to recovery from ketamine addiction.
  • Support groups: Many people battling addictions find support and accountability through participating in peer support groups like Narcotics Anonymous) or SMART Recovery.
  • Aftercare planning: All successful ketamine addiction treatment plans include comprehensive aftercare planning due to the relapsing nature of addiction.

How Addictive is Ketamine?

Ketamine has some potential for addiction, although it is considered to be less addictive than opioids.

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Get Treatment for Ketamine Addiction at Renaissance Recovery

If you or someone that you care about needs help reclaiming their life from ketamine addiction, we specialize in the outpatient treatment of the most addictive drugs at Renaissance Recovery in Southern California.

Not everyone needs residential rehab and not everybody can take a month or more away from their personal and professional obligations. Outpatient and intensive outpatient programs at our rehab in Huntington Beach, CA, allows you to remain anchored to your commitments while engaging with evidence-based treatment for addiction to ketamine.

All addictions are unique, so all Renaissance treatment programs offer a personalized blend of therapies, such as:

  • Talk therapies (CBT and DBT) 
  • Holistic therapies
  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Family therapy
  • Individual counseling
  • Group therapy
  • Aftercare planning

 For structured support and effective ketamine rehab, call 866.330.9449 for immediate assistance.



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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